It happened about 5 years ago.
I was a student at the University of Florida. One of my best friends in the whole world, Amanda, had an uncle and aunt who lived in Gainesville. They would occasionally invite me and a couple other friends over to their lovely home for amazing home-cooked dinners and some wonderful company. Amanda's Uncle Rich and Aunt Lindy are basically just very cool. They are welcoming, warm and friendly people, and those dinners were always something we looked forward to. I am pretty sure Lindy was the one to introduce me to the idea of the garlic cheddar biscuits that everyone seems to love so much.
There was one dinner I will never forget. Lindy's friend, Karen, was visiting from Michigan. She was going to make her famous Italian-style spread for some hungry college students, craving a home-cooked meal. I don't know that I was prepared for what happened that night. I don't think I have ever feasted the way we did on the plethora of pure indigence that was before us on that table. There were full casserole-sized dishes of several different meats in a rich and savory tomato sauce. There were mounds of pasta to be fork-twirled or just shoveled, depending on your eating pasta-rategy. There were meatballs, sausages and other meats...as you can tell I simply cannot recall specifics.
I don't think I realized the extent of pleasure I associated with that meal until I saw a picture in my "Food Network Magazine" in the November 2009 Issue:
Photo from Food Network Magazine, November 2009 Issue
It was one of the first recipes I ripped out of a magazine which ultimately inspired me to make my HUGE recipe binder that I carry around everywhere now (seriously, you can ask my friend, Allison, who spotted me at the dog park, HUGE recipe binder in hand). The picture just reminded me of that glorious spread and how I wanted so badly to recreate it.
I have been holding off making this for a while because #1 I was intimidated by all the work that goes into it and #2 I needed more than 2 mouths to feed to make something so large and labor-intensive. I have to admit that I was ultimately inspired to go through with this Italian feast after watching the episode of "Jersey Shore" where Vinny's mom flies to Miami just to cook for everyone in the house. The meal she made them was just epic, and it really put me in the mood for some hard kitchen work. Feel free to just ignore the previous two sentences if you are either offended, disgusted or both that I watch "The Jersey Shore".I took the opportunity to try it out this weekend as some lovely lovely people were accompanying Zach and me for Sunday night dinner.
Good deal. Love it. You will to if you have an entire day for cooking on your hands.
I do feel I have a responsibility to state that while I was over the moon for the meaty mound of goodness this recipe turned out to be, nothing I ever make will compare with what was on the table that night at Rich and Lindy's house.
Mighty Meaty Italian-Style Feast
(Recipe from Food Network Magazine, November 2009 Issue - recipe serves 6 generously)
3 slices white bread, toasted and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup milk
3/4 pound ground beef
3/4 pound ground pork
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish (optional)
10 cloves garlic; 2 minced, 8 smashed
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 pounds bone-in beef shin (I could not find this anywhere so I used a stewing beef that turned out just fine)
2 pounds Italian sausage (half sweet, half hot), halved (casing removed)
1 medium onion, quartered
3 28-ounce cans plum tomatoes
1 12-ounce can tomato paste
6 bay leaves
1 pound orecchiette pasta (I bought fresh shell-like pasta from Bay Cities Italian Deli) I honestly think it is more important to have fresh pasta than it is to have the orecchiette pasta so do what-cha-gotta do).
*You will need a large pot...a 10 quart pot at least.
Soak the bread in the milk until the liquid is absorbed, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the ground beef and pork in a bowl with the egg, cheese, minced garlic, parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Add the soaked bread and mix with your hands until combined. Form into 16 meatballs.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the meatballs and cook, turning, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Add the beef shin and sausage to the pot and cook until browned, turning, about 10 minutes. Transfer the meats to a large bowl.
Add the onion and smashed garlic to the pot and fry until soft, about
4 minutes. Crush the tomatoes into the pot with your hands and pour in the juices. Stir in the tomato paste, season with salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes.
Add 5 cups water (I would use about 2-3 next time instead of 5) and the bay leaves, then return the meatballs, beef shin and sausage to the pot, stirring carefully. Bring to a low boil, stir, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer 2 hours, or until the shin meat is very tender. Uncover and simmer until the sauce thickens and the shin meat is falling off the bone, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Transfer all the meats with a slotted spoon to a bowl and cover with foil. Simmer the sauce to thicken, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook as the label directs. Drain and toss with enough sauce to coat lightly, then top with more sauce and the meat. Garnish with parmesan, if desired.